Prelude: Not expecting many eyes and ears given my perpetual obscurity on this site, but I'm just taking the time to potentially converse with anybody who's willing. If you're able to get through this text wall, you're a swell person.
Went to Landis Valley today for some more Civil War exploration since the 71st Pennsylvania Regiment was holding a reenactment event there. I hated walking around in tennis clothes in Gettysburg (aside from my kepi, which I got from North Carolina years ago) so I made a run to Goodwill to try and piece together a makeshift Union Officer uniform by throwing together blue pieces of business clothes along with a pair of gloves and a black waist belt from home.
And it was super farby and inaccurate, but it was the best that I could do with the money and time I had. After talking to many of the reenactors and impersonators throughout the day after being turned away by a pseudo-enlistment kiosk that morning because one man somehow was able to call out my gender (they redirected me to a tent where I could enroll for nurse assistance or sewing duties, generic girl stuff etc), I got a lot of encouragement from everyone saying that if I wanted to portray a soldier, I should sign up for the group and do the best I could.
Turns out that the Regiment doesn't allow female reenactors because they want to be super accurate and other regiments in the past who have allowed it have taken in really ridiculous-looking girls who aren't willing to do what they have to do to conceal their gender (I heard an account of one woman in particular from two separate testimonies stating that she had long girlish hair and refused to cut or conceal it). One lady, however, has been advocating for a change to that policy and I was told that it may come to fruition by next year.
Mind, I would like to think that I did a swell job at making myself look like a boy on the pretense that many women have disguised themselves during the Civil War to enlist and had successfully gotten away with it for extended periods of time; one in particular (Jenny Hodgers) was so successful that not only did she go undiscovered as a man for the duration of the War, she remained disguised even after it ended. I hid my hair (which is already pretty dang short) in a skull cap under my kepi, and my curves and breasts are not very prominent, so they were easily dwarfed under my jacket.
In fact, one man who was giving a Calvary demonstration was convinced that I was male and jokingly asked me (seeing my fake uniform) where my horse was and why I wasn't participating. I gave short, simple answers in a voice that was as masculine as I could manage. He continued by explaining that if I were to participate, I would be more suited to the task because a real Calvary requires smaller, younger boys and not the heavier older men that were currently participating. He, unwavering,addressed me as "boy" and "young man" and when we began conversing with my parents who came up later, would say "boys his size" and "like himself." He even seemed to believe that I was enlisted and asked what regiment I was a member of; I replied with Company C, #53, which was the host regiment of the day and the first thing I could pull out, as I wasn't expecting the inquiry. My parents luckily contained themselves enough to not reveal my farce to him.
I suppose there's a possibility that he was humoring me, but I'm definitely suspecting that he was genuine. As for how the man earlier that day at the kiosk had been able to realize that I was a girl, I'm not sure; one of them had said, "step up, young man" before the one in particular corrected him. I can theorize that it was because, at the time, a bit of hair had been falling out of my skull cap, but I digress. I was discouraged and embarrassed by that for a while before the events succeeding.
I had been told by the members I conversed with that they were confident that, if the regiment allowed me to portray a soldier, I was just the right person to do it; given my garb and boyish physical traits, I was told that I seemed to be willing to "go the extra mile" and one man had said that he definitely couldn't tell from ten feet away, which was the minimum requirement for being able to identify one's gender at a distance. Others at a broom-making kiosk had said that they were impressed and couldn't tell what my gender was when my dad told of my endeavors. As it happens, I'm just the right age to be able to hold and fire a musket.
I told Kate, one of the kindly women there, that I would be more than willing to portray a lady at one of the events when I signed up, but am still determined to become a soldier as soon as I am able. Knowing that one of the regiments who performed at Gettysburg this past Fourth allowed females (with certain criteria) to reenact, I know that there's some possibility. The main gripe has been paying for the, as you know, very expensive period clothing, but the 71st is willing to lend garbs to newcomers until they are able to purchase and don their own equipment. The woman Kate is about my size and is willing to loan me her dresses should I portray a woman. Until then, I'll have to commit to chores around my house and get paid by my mother until I have enough to begin buying my own equipment. Unfortunately, there's no buying the world for cheap off of eBay in this situation; anything authentic will be full priced no matter where you look. And if you want to be in the 71st--or any regiment, really--you better look authentic. (And not "farby," as Kate put it).
I had been asked why I was so eager to portray a male in reenactments and the answer still isn't clear to me myself, but I've tried to vocalize it regardless; it essentially comes down to my perpetual discontent that men are inherently better than women in near everything. Perhaps my desire is a manifestation of my regards toward the societal scope on women (although I'm certainly no feminist, but that's a whole other thing), but the resistance I received from the kiosk this morning only accentuated my need for masculine portrayal: I shouldn't be denied the immersion that I fervently seek for something that I can't help, my gender. If I want to show my patriotism by riding horses and shooting rifles, I shouldn't be forced to alternatively sit in a nursing hospital or crochet under a tent.
So, I'm going to sign up for the Regiment and become a reenactor. I'll likely be portraying a woman at first, but I will always be determined to become a soldier just like Jennie Hodgers, Sarah Pritchard, Frances Clalin, or any of the other women who enlisted as men and got away with it.
So, what do you think? Should women be able to portray men in Civil War reenactments? How far should the criteria go?
Listening to: Bull
Reading: James Madison biography